Sunday, September 28, 2008

Deal: raw

Blech. I'm not loving it. But along with the pols, I failed to do enough to take on the premises of the bailout. Even within the limits of what can be done around the edges, though, the deal appears to be disappointing.

I'm seriously unhappy that Henry Paulson, who's already handed over billions of our money in broad daylight to help his old firm, appears still to be the decision-maker in this giveaway. [Update: 5:45 pm, 28 Sept - Yep; it's actually worse than I thought: "So it's all up to the Secretary to establish the rules. Same with [equity] Warrants - it's up to the Secretary to negotiate." The form and amount of disclosure of purchases is also up to Paulson. End update.] $350 billion is way too much to commit before any Congressional brakes can be put on. There's almost no punitive aspect, and no re-regulation. There's nothing of the needed bankruptcy changes Dick Durbin tried to insert.

Update 2: 3:00 am, 29 Sept - Reports from the conference call Treasury held Sunday night with the industry (no media, no public; would have gone unreported except for industry-observing bloggers) confirm my worst suspicions. This is not good enough to vote for; it's the original Paulson naked class war with Democratic fig leaves. In particular, the whole $700b can be committed before the clique of looters leaves office. Which was the point. I'm just numb with despair. End update 2.

Bernie Sanders' proposal needs to be a bill come February 2009. As does Durbin's bankruptcy re-reform and Sen. Clinton's recreation of the depression-era Home Owner Loan Corporation. A serious tax is the first priority; the only way to fund health care is to claw back some of the outrageous share of national income from them what took it:

... the total share of national income going to the super-rich has more than doubled [since 1979]. The merely well off have also gotten a slightly bigger piece of the pie, while everyone else has funded this free-for-all. "Everyone else," in this case, means 90% of the country. Our share of national income has gone down in order to make sure that virtually all the fruits of economic growth over the past four decades could go to the well-off, the rich, and the super-duper-rich.

Image: Afferent Input

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Letter to the editor - bailout

Sent to the Roanoke Times, just at their word limit of 200; I hope it's one of many.

Six years ago Bush and Cheney used scare stories to stampede Congress into authorizing a ruinous war. Now they're using the same tactics to make a huge grab for the bank on the way out the door.

After two years of saying things were under control, while ignoring the pain of homeowners struggling with unaffordable mortgages, suddenly they’re painting the picture of a financial "mushroom cloud" unless we fork over $700 billion right now, to be handed out to their Wall Street friends with no questions asked.

For Congress to agree would be an unconstitutional abdication of its power of the purse -- even if this administration had proved trustworthy in dispensing vast sums of money. Given the actual Bush-Cheney record of corruption, incompetence, and cover-ups, it would be insanely irresponsible.

The timing also guarantees conflict of interest. In January Secretary Paulson is likely to be looking for work among the very businesses to whom he's proposing to hand out billions.

Congress should pass no proposal that doesn't
  • restructure mortgages to keep people in their homes,
  • protect taxpayers' interests with oversight and accountability, and
  • lay the groundwork for re-regulation to solve the problem.

  • Now reworking for Rep. Goodlatte and Sens. Warner and Webb.

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    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    Groundhog day

    Through their tears, they see opportunity.

    In this case, the opportunity is a $700-billion grab, with unfettered authority, from the taxpayers to the administration's best friends on Wall Street.

    Six years ago to the day, the regime was demanding unfettered authority for another such project from Congress. Common sense warned that the tidy, antiseptic slogan of "regime change" was a facade for vast devastation and killing, and a long, open-ended commitment of resources for unstated goals. But complicit, ambitious, and fearful Democrats were only willing to tinker with the language, not confront the basic policy, and agreed to a vote before the election. So here we are, a trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives later.

    The clique of lawless plunderers in the executive (and fourth) branches has used the technique again and again, and it always works: They back Congress up against a deadline and "brief" them with visions of the catastrophic consequences of not granting yet more unchecked power and retroactive absolution for crimes already committed.

    The Military Commissions Act was introduced at this time two years ago as an electoral club: fearful of "soft on terrorism" smears, the Democrats acceded to authorizing show trials, legalizing torture, and actively cooperated in stripping habeas protections from prisoners. The Protect America Act, to authorize previously illegal massive domestic spying, was pushed through with tales of terrorist threats against Congress itself and with an August recess looming.

    In this latest crisis, the Democrats are as complicit as they are fearful; Wall Street runs both parties. I look for nothing but the tiniest concessions, nibbling around the edges rather than addressing the causes, much less sticking the people who caused the problem with the tab or holding them accountable in any way.

    And the timing, when so many activists are in full-out election mode, means that it's unlikely that a cohesive alternative can be put together in time to provide even a missed opportunity for the craven congressional Dems. Still, I'll keep alert to signs of organized resistance.

    Update: 2:30 pm, Sept 21 - This, purportedly from a member of Congress (vouched for and via Matt Stoller) is a spirits-lifter, but I'd be more encouraged if s/he'd go on the record:

    Nancy [Pelosi] said she wanted to include the second "stimulus" package that the Bush Administration and congressional Republicans have blocked. I don't want to trade a $700 billion dollar giveaway to the most unsympathetic human beings on the planet for a few fucking bridges. I want reforms of the industry, and I want it to be as punitive as possible.
    I also find myself drawn to provisions that would serve no useful purpose except to insult the industry, like requiring the CEOs, CFOs and the chair of the board of any entity that sells mortgage related securities to the Treasury Department to certify that they have completed an approved course in credit counseling. That is now required of consumers filing bankruptcy to make sure they feel properly humiliated for being head over heels in debt, although most lost control of their finances because of a serious illness in the family. That would just be petty and childish, and completely in character for me.
    David Obey? Barney Frank?

    Update 2: 4:00 pm, Sept. 21 - By far the best summary of how Congress should respond to this outrageous ploy by the regime is a guest post by Rebecca Gordon at Happening Here? Her most important point, one which the Democrats fail to grasp again and again, is that there is no reason to grant the regime's terms of debate, that unlimited authority must be ceded right this minute or the sky will fall.

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    The Great Swindle

    The shock is beginning to wear off, which is bad news for the Shock Doctrine practitioners. These guys put it well:

    Any member of Congress who looks at the plan to give [Treasury Secretary]Hank [Paulson] unchecked power to transfer $700 billion from the Treasury to his friends' companies and has any reaction other than "You've got to be fucking kidding me" does not deserve to hold office.

    This loathsome bailout plan is a slap in the face to anyone who believes in either free-market principles or social justice.
    Right now a corrupt and spent corporate class is on the brink of getting a corrupt and spent governing class to perpetuate its privilege by almost dumbfoundingly transparent means. Anyone with a soul needs to oppose them.
    Jim Henley.

    Update: 3:55 pm, Sept 21 -
    There’s no institutional mechanism; there’s no logic to this bailout that could not apply to a future one. It not only culminates the previous era of Moral Hazard, it inaugurates the next one. It guarantees more of the same behavior that led to the current crisis.
    More Jim Henley.

    If millions of people take mortgages that they can't afford, and the ensuing mess threatens the stability of the financial system, the government can't bail them out --- some of them may have been ill-advised or rushed into bad deals by shady financiers, but it would destroy market incentives, and they just have to suffer.

    If major financial institutions buy those mortgages, and the ensuing mess threatens the stability of the financial system, the government must bail them out --- they're getting off easier than they deserve, but the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.
    Charles Dodgson.

    [I]f this really happens, forget universal health insurance, aid to education, and middle class tax cuts as promised by Obama. The Republicans will have stolen the bank on the way out the door.
    Jan in San Fran.


    Sunday, September 07, 2008

    Prepare to dare or prepare to despair

    Email conversation with Thomas Nephew about the Million Doors for Peace effort got me to pull together some thoughts I've only let myself reflect on briefly over the last few months.

    There's been a divide among antiwar activists -- between those who are serious about ending the occupation of Iraq and those who’d like to do that but only if it doesn’t cost Democrats politically. Depending on the size of the Democratic majorities in Congress, and assuming an Obama administration, that divide might be less important in 2009 than it's been for the last two years.

    Given that Voters for Peace (the coalition organizing Million Doors) includes both tendencies, it's an encouraging sign that their petition calls for a faster and firmer wrapup in Iraq than even the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq, not to mention the probably-never "conditional engagement" plan of Colin Kahl and company, who have Obama's ear. If the Responsible Plan were the strongest demand on the Obama administration, then we'd end up with something closer to permanent bases and endless occupation. With Voters for Peace mobilizing a million petition signers this winter for something stronger, the Responsible Plan backers in Congress should be able to position their policy (accurately) as the centrist choice.

    There’s a whole constellation of issues just ahead of us in which this dynamic plays out, where an insufficiently vigorous presence on the "radical" end of the spectrum could result in blown opportunities that haunt us for the next decade or more.

    Health care: Health Care for America Now has more than a little in common with Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (see 'divide' above). I accept that there's an imperative for Dems to pass something that concretely provides access to affordable health insurance for everyone. I also accept the political impossibility of legislating the private insurers out of the medical market in the next Congress. So I grasp the incrementalist strategy, whose goal is to get a public insurance pool into whatever's passed as the thin end of the wedge that could lead eventually to an all-public plan.

    What I don’t buy is that single-payer advocates should just fold into the HCAN campaign rather than mobilizing to create the serious threat of a stronger plan from which the HCAN public-pool proposal can be urged as the compromise retreat. If HCAN’s is the starting position, then we’ll end up with less than that. In this case, anything less would mean foreclosing the chance for public health care for another generation.

    Impeachment right away: Only a small minority of the American public -- even of informed, activist liberals -- understands that the Constitution provides for impeachment of officials after they've left office, not just for sitting presidents. Yet post-power impeachment hearings are the single best way to uncover just what lawbreaking was done. Not only do impeachment investigations have much stronger testimony-extracting powers than regular Congressional hearings, but post-term impeachment is much less easily characterized as a "partisan witch hunt" because it's removed from an electoral landscape.

    Other excuses will be will be thrown up by compromised, fearful, lazy, and/or power-loving Democrats. The two most common are "we don't want to be seen as vindictive" and "impeachment would be a distraction from the vital work we have to get done".

    The best answer to ‘vindictive’ is that this is about restoring the Constitution, pruning back these dangerously expanded executive powers that no one -- including "our" people -- should have. That’s the opposite of vindictive.

    We’re going to get the ‘distraction’ line not only from politicians but from our allies, every organized progressive constituency desperate to get issues addressed by Congress after eight (or 28) years in the desert. Yet if the impeachment investigations are put off for even a year, we’ll run right up against the midterms, and by 2011 the presidential campaign will have begun. So if hearings don't begin in 2009, it’s hard to see how they could get going before 2013 -– by which time the "ancient history" charge will have more effect. So it could be 2009 or never.

    We cannot wait. If there’s no serious domestic move toward accountability for torture, for which impeachment hearings are among the most practical and plausibly effective forum, then within a year there will be international legal interventions. The politics and optics of that are terrible, for anyone who cares about achieving a systemic rooting-out and reversal of this country's policy of torture. Legal threats from outside the country risk creating an effect of rallying around the old regime (however incredible such a thing seems now), and not only among Republicans. The most secure footing for international law will be created by Americans ourselves restoring the rule of law in the United States.

    Likewise, only actual exposure of what went on with domestic spying under Bush-Cheney can light a big enough fire under Congress to get them to roll back the legislation that enables it, and only impeachment hearings seem to me to have the testimony-inducing force to get that exposure.

    Impeachment is the key to reversing the damage of the last eight years, not simply papering it over. The time to organize for demanding it is not after the election, but now.

    (The mechanics to accomplish this are for another post. Please don't wait for that; share thoughts and suggestions in comments.)

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    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    Conventional clampdown

    I watched more of the Democratic convention than I've done since 1972, on the blessedly unfiltered C-SPAN. But I didn't see much coverage, online or off, of what was happening outside the hall in the streets.

    Before the Denver convention got going, we were given a look at the chilling warehouse (video) in which the security forces planned to hold people they arrested. But how many people ended up there, and what took place?

    As has become sadly routine, a big area around the convention hall was sealed off to the uncredentialed, and protest was supposed to be channeled into a distant, penned-in "Free Speech" area. Helicopters droned above, and the police were out in force, in riot gear.

    Iraq Veterans Against the War did the most effective job of challenging that b.s. The march they led was covered surprisingly well by the Denver Post. I'm a little ticked off that none of the bloggers who went to the convention reported on it (none that I saw, anyway; correction invited).

    Clearly, the cops were spoiling for a fight. At one event, they slammed a CodePink member to the ground (video); CP's suing. And they responded to non-permitted demos with preemptive gusto: A second Post article provides the account of a mass arrest, in which the police pepper-sprayed more than a hundred people out of one area, then pinned them in for two hours before hauling them off to the warehouse. There, those arrested weren't allowed to make phone calls unless they pled guilty to charges, and weren't given access to lawyers, despite teams of ACLU and National Lawyers Guild attorneys waiting at the site for the purpose.

    An ABC cameraman was arrested and charged for taking pictures on a public sidewalk of Senators coming and going from meetings with big donors and lobbyists, pretty clearly at the behest of Dems inside.

    That was the worst of Denver, which was bad enough.

    The Twin Cities clampdown over the Labor Day weekend was pure Minority Report.

    Combined forces of the Ramsey County Sherrif's Dept., the FBI, and the ATF launched raids on the Convergence Center and four houses in residential neighborhoods. They surrounded the buildings, came in with guns drawn, cuffed everyone, and seized laptops, cell phones, cameras, and literature. In a press conference on Saturday afternoon, they bragged of using infilitrators and justified the clampdown on the basis of information from their spies. They stopped three IWitness video volunteers who were biking in from the airport and took their equipment. They commandeered an environmental group's bus and left everyone riding in it on the highway. They forced everyone in another house outdoors at two in the morning while they tore apart a vehicle parked nearby, "looking for explosives." Many were detained, but only a few arrested; they were charged with conspiracy to riot. Shades of Chicago!

    Undaunted, a fine collection of groups hit the streets peacefully as planned Monday; see if the pics don't warm your heart as much as they did mine. However, there were also a hundred or so roamers, many masked, who left a wake of broken windows, smashed-up cop cars, and street-blocking debris. Arrests are already at 284, so the provocateurs are accomplishing their mission: legitimize the arrest of anyone else on the street. Amy Goodman and two Democracy Now crew members were arrested and sprung, as was an AP photographer. Charges have been much heavier than in Denver: 130 felonies (including against the DN producers) along with hundreds of misdemeanors (including Goodman; the AP guy was not charged).

    John Emerson has the best collection of links.

    All of these tactics were already being deployed against the anti-corp-globalization protestors in 2000 and early 2001, especially in Miami and D.C. But since then, the "war on terra" has brought a massive buildup of paramilitary equipment, spying capabilities, and Fusion Centers that amplify the power of a podunk sheriff by uniting it with the federal arsenal. The war mentality has both multiplied the weapons at their disposal and normalized this kind of military operation on our city streets.

    The counter-terror targets: us. We commit conspiracy to riot by planning to assemble. Sure, you might insist it will be peaceable, but the security forces' infiltrators have a different story to tell. And look: guys in masks smashing stuff, proving it's just like they say.

    Off we go.
    Update: 3:50 pm, 3 Sept - Cross-posted to A Tiny Revolution with some additional links and editing, and update on Tuesday repression. Added to this post: Denver arrest of ABC cameraman and Saturday police press conference in Minnesota.

    Update 2: 2:15 pm, 4 Sept - As I noted in the ATR version of the post, this kind of aggressive "security" display is guaranteed by the $50 million grant each convention city is awarded. Pacifica has a breakdown of what the money was spent on in Minnesota (Denver has not publicly accounted for its spending). What caught my eye: $2 million for a closed-circuit TV system and many more downtown security cameras. This is an echo of the phenomenon Naomi Klein reported in Beijing: state surveillance and control put in place for a one-time event that ratchets up control forever after. Thomas Nephew makes the Beijing connection and passes along more detail on the Tuesday police attacks.

    Update 3: 11:45 am, 6 Sept - In all, 818 people were arrested during the Republican convention week, close to 400 of them the last night of the convention. Almost all of those were ticketed and released. The number of felony charges (reported by St. Paul police chief on Tuesday as 120) has apparently fallen to 16, with 6 more possible. Eight of those are against Republican Welcoming Committee organizers, for conspiracy to riot to further terrorism, a charge under Minnesota's state version of the Patriot Act passed in 2002. (Wonder how many other states have these?)
    Image: St. Paul riot police, Glenn Greenwald